Pangnirtung lands a net full of jobs



Pangnirtung fish plant workers kept their jobs last winter ­ thanks to a deal that brought 370,000 pounds of Davis Strait turbot into their community.

Under an agreement with Pangnirtung Fisheries, a commercial deep sea trawler from Newfoundland landed its big catch in Pangnirtung.

Without that fish, Pangnirtung’s plant workers would have had little to do.

That’s because, for the second year in a row, drifting ice and unpredictable winds in Cumberland Sound made conditions too dangerous for local turbot fishers.

Inshore turbot caught by local hunters using nets strung under the sea ice used to be the only fish processed by Pangnirtung’s fish plant workers.

Fish equals jobs

But the plant’s agreement with Davis Strait Fisheries of St. John’s, Nfld. has brought more fish ¬ and more jobs ¬ to Pangnirtung.

The fish plant paid about $300,000 in wages to 50 local workers between November and January ¬ the time it took local workers to unload and process the turbot for export to the plant’s Boston distributor.

Few local fishers ventured onto frozen Cumberland Sound last winter with snowmobiles and fishing shacks.

“The ice keeps breaking and moving, there’s no way of going out there. It’s really dangerous,” said Thomasie Alikatuktuk.

In a very good year, Alikatuktuk said, he can travel 40 or 50 miles from land before reaching open water.

Two years of unpredictable ice

But the past two winters, fishers have been unable to reach Cumberland Sound’s richest turbot fishing grounds, often reaching open water just 10 or 15 miles from shore.

“My favorite fishing spot never froze up,” Alikatuktuk said.

Wind and unstable ice on Cumberland Sound also cause frequent mishaps, and several fishers this year lost lines, hooks and even shacks to the sea.

When conditions are ideal, a long-line fisherman in Cumberland Sound can easily haul between 1,500 to 2,000 pounds of turbot over a four-day period.

First deal with commercial trawler

The deal to replace that turbot marks the first time that Pangnirtung Fisheries has hired a commercial trawler to fill its quota.

“We went right till January,” said fish plant manager Peter Kilabuk, “and by that time people were already hauling in fresh fish.”

Kilabuk said Pangnirtung Fisheries hopes to renew its contract for the upcoming season.

“It should be a very good year.”

A profit one day?

Kilabuk said he’s confident that the government-supported processing plant will be able to turn a profit within the next three to five years.

“We’re slowly trying to get on our own feet,” said Kilabuk. “It’s been our goal to get it to the point where it can stand on its own feet.”

Pangnirtung is the only Baffin community with a turbot fishery.

The NWT Development Corporation, owns 51 per cent of Pangnirtung Fisheries; the rest of the company is owned by a group of Pangnirtung residents.

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